To the man walking through the park this morning,
It was early, about 7.45am. We were the only two people around.
I was heading to the train station to go to work.
You were wearing workout clothes – blue tracksuit pants, Nike shoes, blue Adelaide Crows hoodie. I made sure I took note.
If I’d had to guess, I’d say you were in your 50’s. Slightly greying hair, not a full beard, but a little more than a 5 o’clock shadow.
I heard your footsteps behind me.
You must have seen me glance back.
You must have noticed my pace speed up.
I heard your footsteps quicken, in time with mine.
I’m sure you noticed my entire body tense as I fumbled around in my bag, trying hurriedly to get to my phone.
And then it happened. You called out to me.
“I’m going to speed up a little and overtake you on the right, so you can see me. I’ll be in front of you, not following you. You’ll be able to see me ahead of you.”
I didn’t say a word. I just kept furiously digging for my phone that was at the bottom of my bag.
You walked to my right, without saying anything else.
By the time I looked up, you’d turned in a different direction to the one I was going in.
To the man in the park this morning: I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that I didn’t acknowledge what you’d done for me. I’m sorry that I ignored you.
Thank you for recognising my fear. Thank you for understanding why I was afraid. And most of all, thank you for not being an asshole.
What you didn’t know is that I walk that route almost every day. And every time I do, I walk past the factory. The factory where men honk a forklift horn at me. The factory where men whistle and catcall. The factory that the shouts of sexual harassment come from, almost every single time. The factory I walk past with my arms crossed across my chest and my head down, as though I’m trying to make myself smaller somehow. There is no way you could know how much I hate walking past that factory. No way could you know that almost every day, for a brief moment, I’m terrified; that those shouts, honks and whistles are actually demeaning and scary because I don’t know what might follow them.
If someone is willing to shout such things at me, there’s nothing that tells me that they wouldn’t actually act on those things – force me to perform those sexual acts they so laughingly suggest. If someone is willing to shout things designed to humiliate a female, responding to them, telling them exactly what you think, doesn’t usually end well. In fact, it usually turns nasty and abusive in a split second.
But you didn’t need to know any of that. You read the situation. You realised how I was reading the situation. And you reacted in the best way possible.
To the man in the park this morning: thank you.